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Exclusive: Tony Blair interview

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 03 May 2005

Prime Minister Tony Blair this evening ruled out a public inquiry into his decision to go to war in Iraq in an interview with Channel 4 News.


Tony Blair, interviewed by Jon Snow, Channel 4 News May 3rd 2005

"I'm afraid it is not sensible to carry on going over this" - Tony Blair, interviewed by Jon Snow, Channel 4 News May 3rd 2005

In an interview with Channel 4 News in Manchester, Mr Blair also insisted it was "absurd" to suggest he was planning to commit Britain to an invasion of Iran. The Prime Minister also said he had no plans to bomb nuclear installations in Iran, which is suspected of seeking to develop the technology to produce nuclear weapons.

Asked whether he would respond to today's calls for a public inquiry from families of servicemen killed in Iraq, Mr Blair said:

"We have had inquiry after inquiry. I most certainly do say we do not need to go back over this ground again and again. I'm afraid it is not sensible to carry on going over this."

Mr Blair said that the confidential advice of the Attorney General, published last week, showed that his opinion was that the war was lawful. He also dismissed suggestions that Lord Goldsmith's full written advice should have been made available to the Cabinet, insisting that the provisions of the ministerial code of conduct did not apply in this case because ministers were able to question the Attorney in person.

He insisted that the case for war was not undermined by a leaked memo written by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in July 2002, which said that the current evidence for Iraq developing weapons of mass destruction was "thin".

"After that, we agreed we would go down the UN route so we went back to the UN in November, got a fresh resolution and laid down the conditions Saddam had to obey," said the Prime Minister. "He didn't obey them."

He added: "Post September 11, we had to take a completely different attitude to the whole position on the proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. It wasn't just a matter of Iraq, it was a matter of Iran, North Korea, Libya, the network of (Pakistani nuclear scientist) AQ Khan and so on. But the place to start was Iraq. Why? Because they were in breach of UN resolutions."

"I took the view that we had to go back and enforce those resolutions against Iraq. If we could do it peacefully through UN weapons inspectors, do it peacefully, if we couldn't, there had to be regime change."

Asked by Jon Snow if he could guarantee that there would be no pre-emptive strike on Iran if Labour wins a third term in office, Mr Blair said "It is absurd to think that we are going to go to invade Iran. Iran is not Iraq. We are not going to launch any sort of invasion of Iran.

What I'm not going to do is sit here and guess at every set of circumstances I may ever have to deal with. No Prime Minister could do that. I have got no intention of bombing their nuclear installations or anything else. Iran is a problem on nuclear weapons, let's be under no doubt or illusion about that. However we have got a process, fortunately, with Iran where we have got France, Germany, the UK and America working on the same side together."

Read a pre-edited transcript of the interview regarding the Iraq war here

Interview transcript

Jon Snow: Prime Minister, Guardsman Wakefield's widow blames you for her husbands death, is she right?

BLAIR: I have expressed my deep condolences and sympathy to the family, I did that yesterday, I did this earlier today, I don't want to comment on it further.

Jon Snow: This war has produced relatives who blame you.

BLAIR: Well, look there is the decision that I took that you know was deeply controversial and people disagree with it in the end I was the person who had to take the decision and the decision came down to it in the end when we couldn't secure a second UN resolution and when we couldn't get one with an ultimatum did we then leave Saddam in place or did we remove him - and those were the only two alternatives. And if we if we removed him we were going to have a war and that is one set of consequences, if we kept Saddam there and that would also have had another set of consequences. I had to make the choice that was the best course for the country and I chose to remove Saddam.

Jon Snow: Was that really the choice? Surely the choice was go with the Americans who inevitably were going to go, there was no stopping them, or wait and let Hans Blix finish his work, he said a matter of months, not weeks, not years, why not?

BLAIR: Well we could have and that is precisely what I wanted to have happen. But that would never have worked without an ultimatum attached to the resolution. And the problem was, and I've obviously have gone over this many times with people - the real problem was there was a split in the Security Council and the question was could we get a second resolution with an ultimatum? Now I actually worked out with Hans Blix at the time the six conditions Saddam would have to satisfy because he wasn't complying fully with UN inspectors but you had to have an ultimatum attached to that. If you couldn't get an ultimatum attached to it, it was never going to work unfortunately France and Russia would veto any such resolution so we couldn't get it.

Jon Snow: Not until Hans Blix had finished his work and then it was up for grabs.

BLAIR: No, but he wasn't going to be able to do his work in my judgement. Remember the only reason Hans Blix was in there was that we had 250,000 UK and US troops. I mean, Saddam had refused to have the inspectors in there. Kofi Annan had meeting after meeting and they had refused and it was only when the troops went down there that the inspectors went back in. And look you can go over this time and time again and I have said to you I know a lot of times I don't disrespect people who would have taken a different point of view. The only thing I ever object to is when people insist on running this on an issue of my integrity or saying I made up the intelligence rather than simply take it that you had to make a decision about it.

Jon Snow: But the point is it is not just about the war, it is in part it is about the process and for example some of the relatives of the dead are asking for a public inquiry into the whole question of the legality and why the legal advice was used.

BLAIR: We've got the legal advice, I mean people have been saying...

Jon Snow: Do you rule out such a public inquiry?

BLAIR: We have had inquiry after inquiry.

Jon Snow: But do you rule it out?


Tony Blair

Prime Minister Tony Blair this evening ruled out a public inquiry into his decision to go to war in Iraq in an interview with Channel 4 News

BLAIR: ..I most certainly do say, we do not need to go back over this ground again and again. For weeks...

Jon Snow: So no chance on this matter, they're saying 14 days and would like an answer...?

BLAIR: No I'm afraid it is not sensible to carry on going back over this. We had the advice from the Attorney General contrary to what was in the media, his advice was that it was lawful to proceed and in the end the legal issue is the same as the political issue; did you proceed without a second resolution? If we could have got a second resolution of course it would have been better. The Security Council that sometimes people discuss almost as if it was some supreme constitutional court, it is five permanent members of the UN Security Council, it is five political leaders that make the decision.

Jon Snow: Not having got a second resolution why didn't you show the whole of the legal advice to the whole of the cabinet?

BLAIR: Because we had the Attorney General there, there was no need to do that, we had the Attorney General in front of the cabinet who took them through the advice and who was there able to answer any of their questions and all the cabinet needed to do, all that anyone needed to do, was to know from the Attorney General, it is not up to us to debate his advice, to know that it was lawful of course, he said it was.

Jon Snow: Is it true that you told Lord Butler that you couldn't give them all the papers because you didn't trust all the cabinet with them.

BLAIR: No that's not true. The reason we had the Attorney General there was in order to answer questions personally and now there isn't any doubt.

Jon Snow: But there weren't any questions?

BLAIR: Well, I mean, I can't remember the discussions that took place but he was there to take people through the legal advice.

Jon Snow: The reason there were no questions ..because they did not know the grounds in which they could ask the questions. For example Prime Minister the point is that the second resolution...

BLAIR: This is not right you know this.

Jon Snow:...the second resolution had failed and it was in the circumstances of the failed second resolution that all the caveats, all the warning in this legal advice came into play but none of them were shown to the cabinet.

BLAIR: Jon, in any legal opinion, as you know, the lawyer will go through the arguments for, the arguments against and come down the other side or the other, that is what he did. ..People keep wanting to frame this in anything other than the terms upon which the decision had to be made.

Jon Snow: You yourself have said that no prime minister takes a more serious decision than to go to war. Say for example you could offer the guarantee that Britain will not launch any pre-emptive strike on Iran?

BLAIR: I have been through this over and over again...

Jon Snow: We heard Jack Straw say it, we haven't heard you say it.

BLAIR: I was asked about it on the television last night and I said it was absurd to think that we are going to go invade Iran. Iran is not Iraq..

Jon Snow: But can you say specifically you are not going to bomb their nuclear installations?

BLAIR: We are not going to launch any sort of invasion of Iran. What I am not going to do is sit here and guess at every set of circumstances I may ever have to give, no prime minister can do that.

Jon Snow: But can you say specifically you are not going to bomb their nuclear installations?

BLAIR: I've got no intention of bombing their nuclear installations or anything else. You know, Iran is a problem incidentally on nuclear weapons, let's be under no doubt or illusion about that at all.

However we have got a process fortunately in Iran where you've got France, Germany the UK and America are working on the same side together. All I'm trying to do when I put forward the case of democracy happening in Iraq is there is something odd when I've been going around in the election campaign and people here saying to me this is a terrible thing you have done to Iraq and Iraqis fighting, usually unsuccessfully, to get on our media saying; 'hang on a minute, our country is liberated, we can now become a stable partner for the region'.

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